Saturday, January 5, 2008

Worship Style

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

I happened upon the above illustration last summer while googling the words "perfunctory worship". I spotted it in the blog of . That day I also searched for phrases such as "perfunctory liturgy" or "rote worship". I had long since considered "hymnbook churches" to be dead, "religious"*, routine, impersonal, stale, antiquated, outdated and irrelevant. I couldn't get past the historic look and sound to hear the timeless message. Even my own church at the time (LCMS megachurch) had told us that one of their goals was to be "culturally relevant".

In my quest to understand my friend's conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy, I was taking a fresh look at liturgy. For almost 19 years I had written it off, but now I was giving it a second look. I think Ben is a emerging/emergent/missional type located in the Ft. Wayne vicinity. He wrote a series of blog entries inspired by reading Simon Chan's book "Liturgical Theology". I bought myself the book but I wasn't overly impressed. Chan is reformed and his doctrine colors his perspective. I found it hard to follow because I don't subscribe to reformed/Calvinist doctrine.

Ben asks the question "Is there enough room in liturgical worship for the spontaneous movements of the Spirit? If we're going to think more deeply about our forms of worship and seek to mold them into more effective and biblical liturgies, are we going to sacrifice the ability to "flow with the Spirit?" Wow. I couldn't have said it any better. This was one of my concerns. If liturgical worship meant singing the same songs, praying the same prayers, reusing the same call & response, reading the same scriptures... in other words, following the lectionary year after year, where was the spontaneity? How could our worship be of any value if it wasn't a personal expression that was born in our hearts? How could I, individually, offer my own, original, native praise and thanks to God if I had to conform to a prayer or a song that somebody wrote 1400 years ago? When and how in a liturgical service could one stand up and speak a prophecy? Can you see how goofed up my thinking was?

That cartoon struck me, because I felt like I had been trapped in the middle for so long. I was sick of charismania. I was tired of empty praise choruses, ambiguous "prophecies", abuse of "baptism in the holy spirit" and the teachings about praying in tongues. Of course, we only had the contemporary praise at our LCMS megachurch. I had already forsaken non-denominational church. I had come to a place were I recognized that hymns were rich with doctrine and scripture. I was ripe for liturgy and I didn't even know it.

Now that I've been attending a good liturgical Lutheran church, I've seen first hand how the spirit works within the structure of liturgy. The Holy Spirit comes to us in two ways. Word and Sacrament. The problem with reformed theology (and Ben's theology, I suspect) is that it denies the presence of God in the sacraments. And somehow as post-modern Protestants we forget how powerful the Word is. The Word is God! It is within hearing the Word of God read that the Holy Spirit moves and flows. Liturgy is chock full of the Word of God. The value of liturgy is that it doesn't originate with me. I can't add anything to God. Liturgy gives God's word to us, but that's not all it gives.

In the Lord's Supper, God feeds us the body and blood of his only begotten son, Jesus Christ. You are what you eat. Jesus is the bread that came down from heaven. Unless you eat his flesh and drink his blood, you have no life in you. His flesh is true food and his blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on his flesh and drinks his blood has Jesus living in him, and he is in Jesus. These words are spirit and life. (John 6:48-64) Speaking of words, don't forget that Jesus is word made flesh. (John 1:1,14) Liturgy gives us Word and Sacrament and therefore Spirit and Life.

Can I get an amen?!

I've now completed the evolution and I am the worshiper on the right. I love liturgy because I love the Word of God. The message of the Gospel is timeless and can never be culturally irrelevant. God's Word doesn't change. The Holy Spirit moves and flows in the same Word today as always. And when I join myself to the Word both verbally and bodily, I'm communing with the whole body of Christ including all the saints, now and throughout history as they are not dead but alive and in the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It's a Holy mystery and I learned about it through the Divine Liturgy.

* The word "religious" has negative connotations in much of protestantism today. e.g. "I'm not religious, I just love the Lord.".


FrankenLuther said...

You and I have much of the same history on the Wittenberg Trail. Only thing is,I am still in the same MegaChurch you left.
I was always looking for the speaker,preacher,TV evangelist,Contemporary Christian Music artist to inspire me and encourage me in my faith. I ended up believing every wind of doctrine that came my way and ended up really mixed up and messed up! I finally came to my senses, and realized I needed to study the doctrines of the Lutheran faith of which I was a memeber of but was still an Evangelical in my beliefs.
Now that I understand and embrace the Lutheran faith and confessions, I realize my MegaChurch is more Evangelical in worship and substance. They offer communion to anyone that "walks in a personal relationship with the Lord" as their requirement for partaking. Isn't there something wrong with this picture.
I say amen to all you have stated in your blog!

Mouthy said...

Amen and Alleluia!

elephantschild said...

Preach it, sister!


Benjamin Sternke said...

Hello! I appreciate hearing about your journey in worship, and I'm glad my posts, etc, helped to spur on some thought.

However, I think we are very much on the same page theologically. Perhaps I misread Chan, but I didn't get the sense he was arguing a "symbolic" or "memorial" view of the Sacraments (perhaps you misread him...). His book very much affirms the presence of God in the sacraments - it is no empty sign. My theology is the same - I affirm strongly the presence of God in the sacraments. See this post and this one for examples. My view is actually very close to the "consubstantiation" of Lutheranism, if I am understanding it correctly.

That's one of the main reasons I am making the move to liturgical worship: I want to more strongly affirm God's transforming presence in the Eucharist (and in the preached Word).

I also have begun the move because of the reasons you mentioned, i.e. I am seeing value in speaking words that did not originate with me, etc.

Anyway, good post! Just wanted to say that I think you misread me on my theology of sacraments. Good to hear from another person experiencing the "evolution" depicted in the cartoon.

orthodoxy hunter said...

Ben! I'm so glad you found my post.

I'm not sure if you misread Chan or not. I didn't finish the book. Perhaps I made too big of an assumption since Presbyterians do not believe in the presence. I just looked up the part where he wrote about that point specifically and he doesn't argue one way or the other. He downplays the importance.

Technically, Lutherans don't believe in consubstantiation, but rather the sacramental union. To me, they sound like the same thing, except consubstantiation goes further into explaining "how".

Liturgy alone isn't enough. I mean, Liturgy is great, it's full of the Word of God and therefore the spirit is at work, but the doctrine in the sermon matters too.

I used to think that denominations were bad because of the divisions. I used to be annoyed at all the different interpretations, and thought they were unnecessary. Now that I'm looking into the various positions on these topics, I see how important having a solid interpretation is.

I wrestled with Calvinism. I learned a lot, but I would say that the spirit didn't convince me. I was much more convinced of the Lutheran view... but that came years later.

I think you would enjoy the Formula of Concord. Take a look:

If you ever want to explore Lutheran doctrine in an interactive environment, I recommend
There's quite a few discussions on the emerging church in there too. :)

Good hearing from you!

Tlotliso said...

Orthodoxyhunter- I especially appreciate your comment above that "Liturgy alone isn't enough....the doctrine in the sermon matters too." I've been to quite a few liturgical services where it was indeed a blessing that the Word was in the liturgy, as one certainly didn't hear it from the pulpit. The good, solid liturgy apparently does not prevent this slipping away from the Truth, though it maintains in the service a kernel of that Truth for those who still care to hear it.

I really like that cartoon and would like to point out that the journey can go in both directions. As a born and bred Missouri Synod Lutheran from a conservative, liturgical background, I feel that I've benefitted from exposure to different styles of worship. God has used such experiences to take me out of my comfort zone & remind me that it's really all about Him.

That's the problem with us humans, really- we are creatures of habit, and any form of worship can become ritualized to the point of meaninglessness. This applies as much to a Pentecostal sevice with dancing in the aisles as it does to a high church mass complete with incense.

I do believe in ultimate truth, think that Lutheran doctrine is an excellent attempt at interpreting Scripture and appreciate the beauty & value of the liturgy. However, given the choice, I would much rather attend a non-liturgical church of any denomination where the Gospel is taught from the pulpit instead of a liturgical Lutheran church where the sermon slot is filled by a sociology lecture.